They say that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Here at the Distributed Republic we don't care for overused cliches. We serve our insanity fresh from the oven and resent the implication that we would copy another's tired recipe. Each strange flavor is crafted from seldom mixed ingredients. Repetition happens only on rarest accident.
California politics have no such pretense to originality. The land of cookie cutter pop stars and Hollywood sequels has a hard time improvising off script. Democrats have ruled both houses of the state legislature for 38 of the last 40 years and the public employee unions have ruled the Democratic Party for roughly as long. The state budget hasn't seen black ink in the better part of a decade; union benefit costs are soaring. Facing yet another $25 billion shortfall California teeters on the brink of bankruptcy.
In the midst of all of this an election happened, just one short month ago. Naturally California voters ginned up all their anger at their leaders' profligate behavior, marched straight to the polls, and did nothing at all.
I exaggerate only a little bit. Every single incumbent Democrat running for reelection to the state legislature won his race, including a dead guy. In this election cycle politically active Californians were most concerned that Republicans would screw up the state. It is true that the Republican Party of California is a sad lot, but outside of a Governator or two they haven't wielded serious power in longer than I have been alive. It takes a strange sort of mass delusion to worry about the drunks in the back seat more than the drunks driving the bus. And then reelect all the drunks driving the bus.
Which is why I propose that we cut the state in half. Not literally, mind you. No highways would be harmed in this operation. It is time we used the infamous California ballot proposition process to do some good besides almost-legalizing marijuana.
We'll draw a line straight across the middle of the state. San Diego will be the new southern capital, suiting its popular nickname as "The Sacramento of the South". The two halves can fight over who has to take Fresno.
Now I know some readers may have doubts that this will do any good. Won't two insane states be twice as bad as one? They will get two more senators. And those senators will screw up national policies for everybody else.
But California governance will improve for two reasons. One argument comes from the standard case for federalism. Large, remote bureaucracies are harder for citizens to monitor than small, close ones. They are also inherently less efficient. The overhead needed to provide public services scales super-linearly with the number of people served. At some scale the overhead generates its own overhead and bureaucracy becomes a self-replicating grey goo.
In other words, Sacramento is dysfunctional because it is a smaller version of Washington, DC.
A second argument for splitting California in two comes from the late economist Mancur Olson. Olson argued that governments built up cruft over time, like an artery gradually hardening under the assault of fast food dinners. This crust is formed by special interest groups convincing politicians to stick narrow laws onto the books for their own benefit. Eventually the law is all crust and no substance, its thousands of pages loses any rational basis it once had and becomes an anchor on economic growth.
But sometimes a disaster, crisis, or revolution happens and society gets a chance to start over. A Sherman burns down your city or a Truman bombs your harbor and suddenly all the bums are missing from city hall. The cruft is gone.
Olson attempted to show through historical research that these shakeups result in a period of more prosperity and higher economic growth before the cruft grows again. Breaking California in two, then, is an Olsonian proposition. We have the rare chance to push the reset button without suffering nuclear fallout or guillotines on the street corners.
California is too awesome a place for one group of assholes to be able to ruin it. It should take two. And that is what in systems design we call "robustness".